Beyond the Politics of Abortion
David C. Reardon, Ph.D.
Everyone has an opinion about abortion. That's fine--up to a point.
The problem is when these political and moral views get in the way of
efforts to help those who are hurting because of a past abortion.
Just for the moment, set aside the question of whether or not abortion
should be legal, and ask yourself, "Shouldn't we all offer understanding
and compassion to our friends and family members who are feeling grief
over a past abortion?"
Most people would answer yes. Indeed, this is one of the few areas of
common ground between both sides of the abortion debate. Unfortunately,
people on each side generally believe that while
they are understanding
and compassionate, those on the "other side" are not.
The truth is closer to this: both sides really
want to be understanding
and compassionate, and both sides are blind to the ways in which they
are failing in this regard.
As a result, women and men who are struggling with unresolved grief
over an abortion are caught in a trap. They're boxed in by the politics
On one side, they are afraid to share their grief with friends who are
"pro-life" because they fear being condemned and rejected. On the other
side, they've learned that when they turn to friends who are "pro-choice,"
their grief may not be acknowledged as truly valid.
In the latter case, pro-choice friends typically try to offer support
with words like, "Just forget about it. It was your best choice at the
time. It wasn't really a baby yet. You can have another baby some day."
These statements are meant to offer reassurance. But those grieving
a past abortion hear something else: "Just forget it. You didn't lose anything
that was real." They walk away feeling that their grief is irrational,
unimportant, or even abnormal, and so they bury their pain once more.
But this buried pain is exactly their problem! They want to expose
it, work through it, and get beyond it--and they need the support of
their loved ones to do this.
This is why people of every culture hold funerals and wakes. It is a
time of open grieving when we acknowledge and validate each other's loss.
In abortion, something is lost. Whether you want to call it the loss
of a child or just the loss of an "opportunity" to have a child, the loss
is real. It has to be grieved and released. If friends and loved ones deny
this grief, the grief process will actually be prolonged.
Yet pro-choice advocates often hesitate to recognize the reality of
post-abortion grief because they fear this means they
have to recognize the death of a baby, which may somehow undermine the
political argument for legal abortion. Some extremists will even go so
far as to deny that abortion can ever cause emotional suffering,
a claim that is insulting to the millions of women and men who know differently
from their own experience.
In short, the politics of abortion are getting in the way of post-abortion
healing. Those who are experiencing grief do not need rationalizations
or slogans. They need the reality of their emotional experience to be understood,
accepted, and respected.
Now let's look at the other side of the trap.
Do women and men struggling with a past abortion feel comfortable talking
about it with their pro-life friends? Rarely. This is because the pro-life
movement has done a far better job of condemning abortion than of promoting
compassion for those who have experienced it.
Most pro-lifers probably do want to be compassionate. They really do
"hate the sin, but love the sinner." Unfortunately, this seldom comes through
in their anti-abortion rhetoric.
Consider, for example, this comment made by many pro-lifers: "I can't
understand how anyone could have an abortion." Sadly, anyone who says this
is merely exposing his ignorance of the immense pressures which drive people
to choose abortion.
Polls show that at least 70 percent of women having abortions believe
abortion is immoral. Most of these women thought they would never
have an abortion. Many even considered themselves to be pro-lifers. But
when they found themselves trapped in a hard situation, they ended up submitting
to the "evil necessity" of abortion as their "only choice." With this fact
in mind, a more humble pro-life attitude would be to say, "Who am I to
throw stones at others?"
Secondly, pro-lifers who say "I don't understand how anyone could have
an abortion" are blind to how hurtful this statement can be. Think about
it. What is the implication of this comment to a person who has had an
abortion? Won't it be heard as, "Only an evil person could ever have an
This is not what most pro-lifers intend to say, but it is the
message that is heard.
Faced with comments like these, it is no wonder that most women and
men hurting over a past abortion will go to great lengths to hide their
secret. Would you share your secret grief over a past abortion with
someone who "just can't understand" how anyone like you could do such a
thing? Of course not.
Most pro-lifers probably don't intend to be condemning. Indeed, most
would genuinely want to offer comfort and understanding. But the truth
is, most don't know how.
Let's Face Their Reality
Bottom line: whether you consider yourself pro-choice or pro-life, it
is essential to acknowledge the feelings of those who do
feel pain after an abortion. Your political and moral views about abortion
will not change how they feel. Pushing your views may simply prolong
or aggravate their negative feelings.
Everyone, on both sides, can do better. Our friends and loved ones need
us to do better. Reading this publication will help you do better.
David C. Reardon, Ph.D., is the director
of the Elliot Institute and author of Making
Abortion Rare: A Healing Strategy for a Divided Nation and The
Jericho Plan: Breaking Down the Walls Which Prevent Post-Abortion Healing.